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The history of All Saints Church


In 1888, those people that regularly attended the services must have found the parish church a much more pleasant place in which to worship compared with previous years. It seems that up until 1878 the interior, and to a lesser extent the exterior, of the church had become very dilapidated, because in that year the Rector, James Edward Law, and Churchwardens, used what funds were available for a partial restoration of the church and the work continued until 1879. The trouble was that much of the earlier work, notably that carried out in 1760 when the Sanctuary (having then become much dilapidated) was rebuilt, was of inferior quality. No doubt the building standards in those days depended to some extent on the amount of funds available at the time the work was commissioned, but all the troubles cannot be placed on lack of building techniques either, as much work of this kind elsewhere has survived the passage of time.  But, for whatever reason, the restoration work of the previous century had not lasted for very long.

So, in 1878, the church must have looked a sorry sight! At that time, the east window in the Sanctuary, having fallen out earlier, had been replaced by a common wooden one inserted in a wall with defective brickwork; in the south wall was placed an ordinary deal cottage door; the soil in the churchyard has accumulated to a height of 4 feet above the church pavement (the reason for this is not clear) and hence the foundations and floors were damp and offensive; the roofs were rotten and leaky and the walls thrust out of upright by the pressure of the decayed roof timbers. Even the repair work carried out in 1854 does not seem to have had much effect as the state of decay was increasingly apparent prior to the partial restoration which was soon to be carried out.

It seems as if the Incumbent and Churchwardens at that time had ambitious plans for this restoration work as it appears to have been their intention to add a north aisle so as to make additional room for worshippers, but the funds ran out. This would indicate that the congregation must have been fairly large, and presumably increasing, which would have been in keeping with the later Victorian times when regular family worship was an accepted part of life. Of course, in modern  times for many reasons this situation has changed, but the problem of raising enough funds for projects such as church restoration has obviously been with us for a long time. However, despite the financial difficulties, much was done to make the church beautiful as well as usable. The soil of the churchyard, particularly near to the church, was lowered and drains laid so as to make the floor dry. An underground stove was fixed in the Nave. The Chancel work of 1760 was cleared away and the Sanctuary was rebuilt on the original foundations. In taking down the walls, portions of stone coffins and fragments of the works of 1080 and 1308 were found embedded. Some of these fragments, believed to be pieces of Saxon coffin lids, are today still to be seen having been worked into the outside walls of the porch and Chantry. The Chancel was entirely cased on the exterior with flints and pebbles. In the middle of the east wall a bold super-altar of stone was built and above it was placed a white marble altar cross on a black marble background. The founder’s tomb, that of Sir John de Freville (d.1312), and the monumental slabs were carefully preserved. A two-light decorated window, given by the incumbent, was put in at the east end. The (choir) stalls were restored with traceried panels and cresting above. The panels were powdered over with the ermine spots and crescents of the de Freville arms. The steps, which were levelled in 1643, were restored and new wooden floors laid under the seats, with pavements of stone and tiles (copied from the original tiles of 1308) in other parts. The old pews were cleared away and replaced with oak seats, given by Col. R.G. Wale. The old Jacobean pulpit was cleaned and repaired and put on a stone base. The walls of the Nave were repaired and made as upright as possible. New roofs, having cambered oak beams, and made up in part by the best pieces of the old roofs, were placed over the Nave and Chancel. The lower stages of the tower buttresses were rebuilt having previously been in a defective condition due to their original construction. The south doorway was renewed, replacing the decayed and fractured clunch, had a new oak door provided, and the whole protected by the porch of oak on a stone plinth. The ancient churchyard cross on the south side of the church was restored.

In a report of the special service for the re-opening of the church - having been closed for some nine months – held on 24th April 1879, the Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal records the theme of the sermon given by the Bishop of Ely. This was, of course, when the Victorian age was in full flow, and the Bishop set out some of the aspects of religion which were predominant at that time. The article reads:

“He took for his text the 24th chapter of St. Luke at the 16th verse. His sermon was an exposition of the Catholic doctrine of the veiled or unseen presence of our Lord, as held by the Church of England; the world, contending against that doctrine, produced on the one hand infidelity, or on the other hand fanaticism, religious excitement, and a diseased craving for the sensible (sic) manifestation of God. False notions of the doctrine of the veiled presence overshadow the Sacraments, one produces gross views of the Lord’s Supper, the other reduces it to a mere memorial. The Anglican doctrine balances the true position in that it teaches men to speak cautiously and reverently of the Sacraments, for in them you touch the meeting point of two worlds, and walk in the veiled presence of the Lord, as really as the disciples did on the Emmaus road”. Hence we might guess that if the Bishop of the Diocese preached this forthright religious doctrine then his clergymen also adhered to it, and presumably religious fervour of this nature was the order of the day. To-day, one wonders how far we have come along the Emmaus road?

There was no mention of the (five) bells being rung for this re-opening service but if they were then one English nobleman, long since “gone to another shore”, might have smiled when the 3rd bell was struck as it bore his distinguished name. When Richard Holdfield cast his bell in 1612, to commemorate the visit of Prince Charles to Cambridge University, the Earl of Southampton who was one of the Prince’s retinue, had his name inscribed on the bell in a phonetic fashion “HENRIE WRYESLE, EARLE OF SOVTHAMPTVN” – his ‘correct’ name was Henry Wriothesley!

However, it would seem most likely that the bells were rung during the following year, especially on 12th June 1880, when we read in the Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal that “The marriage of Miss I.G. Wale, daughter of Lt/Col. Wale, and the Rev. Arthur Charles Jennings, Vicar of Whittlesford, took place at Little Shelford Church. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Dr. Townsend assisted by the Rev. H.J. Wale. School children strewed flowers on the path. They had their honeymoon in Italy.” No doubt the bride was much pleased by the contributions made by the Wale family to the church during the recent restoration, as in addition to the new seats, much memorial stained glass and panelling had been given. In all, it sounds as if it was a very pleasant day.

Such an event must have brightened up the lives of the local inhabitants because 1879 was a black year for English farming –  the home harvest was ruined by rain and the wet weather caused diseases among sheep and cattle and hard times came back to the countryside. We do not know whether this catastrophe significantly affected the number of deaths in Little Shelford at the time. However, if the 1200 acres, mainly of wheat, barley and oat crops, all failed then the population of just over 500 must have suffered in one way or another.

Today’s church-goer, or visitor, sees much the same as his ancestors did 100 years ago. Improvements have taken place in the form of a Chantry screen, electric lighting, new ringing chamber and a 6th bell, and a new organ. Restoration work to the tower and roof has been carried out, but the basic structure has not changed. The fine decorated altar-tomb of the great benefactor of the church, and the supposed rebuilder of the Chancel, Sir John de Freville, has partly survived the passage of time. The recumbent effigy of the knight still seems to have that air of repose befitting to one of such high rank, though even in 1880 the links of mail had virtually disappeared: the original figure in armour of the 14th century must have been quite splendid. We might pause to wonder whether the Chantry (Chapel) still belongs to the “LORDS OF THIS MANOR”. Even though the de Freville family has long been extinct, the brasses of two of the members still lie on the floor; they commemorate most probably Robert de Freville (d. 1393) and wife Claricia; and his son Thomas Freville (d. 1405) and his wife Margaret. In both cases the knight is shown in complete armour with mail round the throat, and a high-pointed helmet; he holds his lady by the right hand, she being attired in a long mantle. Hence, the de Freville family “lives on” and like our Victorian forbears we have much to thank them for.

K.J. Hurst

Church history from the 1880 celebrations 

When one undertakes to clear up the dates of past incumbents of an English country church, one normally bites off more than one can chew. Little Shelford seems to afford no exception. One day, I hope, I shall be able to furnish the lady calligraphist, who has kindly promised to write them out in a fair hand for all so see, with a fairly complete Table of Incumbents, defaced as rarely as possible by dates merely inferred or extrapolated. If I manage this, I shall devote a separate broadsheet or handbill to the crucial evidence. Meanwhile, I can only plead for a respite, and defend my plea with a general account of the kinds of evidence available. As we shall see, they are all at present incomplete.

We are celebrating this year [1980]  our nine hundredth anniversary. But our beginnings are shadowy. We have hardly any documentary evidence for our first three centuries. Fortunately, the stones of our church help us a little. We have nothing like the wonderfully inscribed door of Castor Church, which puts its fabric so firmly in the early twelfth century. But we do have “Mercian” cross-shafts built into our Victorian south porch and coffin-lids of the thirteenth century in the west wall of the south chapel. Moreover, the width of the nave and its primitive Norman character seem sufficient to show that Little Shelford started life as a twin of Hauxton, the best medieval church in our immediate neighbourhood. On incumbents, however, we have nothing for three centuries.

A precious source for the induction and the death or resignation of Rectors is the Diocesan Register. In many sees this begins with the thirteenth century. At York, for instance, the oldest volume that we know begins with Archbishop de Grey (ca. 1250). But early diocesan registers, like fabric rolls and other crucial documents, can be very patchy. At Ely, for instance, after the fairly complete register of Thomas of the Isle, there is a gap between 1361 and 1374, the first year of Thomas of Arundel; and, while Bishop Fordham has left a register impressive for the detail and variety of its administrative decisions, the information on incumbents has apparently vanished from his records for 1408-21. It perhaps occupied a separate volume. Notices of incumbents for the period after 1421 appear at the end of an earlier register.

The Ely Diocesan Register has been indexed by two scholars. Crosby’s famous Index presents the period from the beginnings in the fourteenth century up to an including the episcopate of Dr. Cox, the first Elizabethan Bishop. It was published in the Ely Diocesan Remembrances between 1889 and 1914. Whether it was a minor War Casualty I do not know. It should surely have reached 1603. For the other Index,   Ely Episcopal Records by A. Gibbons, published at Lincoln in 1891, just after Crosby began his, covered the whole seventeenth century down to 1701. The gap in the Index, covering roughly the second half of the Elizabethan Age, is very irritating; and my own knowledge, at any rate, of eighteenth century incumbents is very patchy, as I have found no convenient Index to help me. We are lucky, I think, to have the monument of the Rev. Samuel Ingle, with the date of his death – 1794.

I have found few errors or misprints in Crosby or Gibbons. But I have doubts over one entry in Crosby. Under March 9, 1337/8, we read that leave of absence was granted to Thomas de Eyton, Rector of Shelford Parva, at the instance of R. de Frereford. But less than three years later, on 15 October 1340, Master Thomas de Eyton, Priest, Rector of Shelford Magna, is licensed to study and to lease out his church (to a vicar) for two years. He returned, and could have occupied Great Shelford for forty years, perhaps continuously: for it is not until 19 July 1380 that he exchanged this living for the Rectory of Southpole, Exeter, with its incumbent, Master William de Donnebrugge. A mandate was granted to Master Walter Knyght, Rector of Little Shelford, to induct Master William. On balance, it seems that Crosby made a slip (“Parva” for “Magna”) in the entry for March 1377/8.

The mandate to Walter Knyght interests me for another reason. When I started these researches, I was given a typescript of the Rectors of Little Shelford. I do not know who first compiled it. But unhappily it cites no evidence for any of the names and dates it contains. If I am conscientious, I must try to find the evidence for every item. There is a date “1380” against Walter Knyght; and clearly the evidence is this mandate (Crosby’s Index p. 109). Luckily, too, Crosby supports the date in the typescript list for Knyght’s resignation – 1393. But I do not know when Knyght was inducted.

There is more trouble over Thomas Patesle, who was cited as “Rector of Shelford” in a mandate for Convocation in December 1408. Great or Little? At that time the incumbents of both Great and Little Shelford were called “Rectors”, as they were for long after. But Patesle is said in the tradition to have rebuilt Great Shelford in 1387 (in which year, on May 20, a Thomas de Patesle became Archdeacon of Ely). Moreover, his monumental brass in Great Shelford Church is dated 1411 and described by Haines in his Manual (Parker 1848), pp.lviii, lxxxiii and 203. So Patesle must be struck off the typescript list of our own Rectors – a pity, because he is one of the rectors whose death we could date. Gibbons’ book also has its gaps. Our Rector for the troubled period after 1641 was Gilbert Wigmore. Gibbons evidently studied the evidence for him in our Parish Register, which had normally to be signed by the Rector at the end of each year. But no parish records were kept between 1652 and 1660. After that, they were signed by Gilbert Wigmore until 1663. The next reference to a Rector is to William Wells, in 1671. The typescript list conjectures that Gilbert Wigmore might have resigned in 1668. I wonder why. Could he not have been thrown out about 1663? He died in August 1683, according to his tombstone at Little Shelford, which styles him D.D.

The deficiencies of these external records may, perhaps, be supplied at times from our own Parish Registers. At least, we may conjecture from them when old incumbents fell mortally ill, or new incumbents were installed. Thus, Henry Finch is remarkably steady and active for thirty five years from 1811 – the date when our second box of registers begins. But by 1847 more and more of his services are taken by others, and in 1848 he fades away. William Law, his successor according to my typescript list, never appears to officiate at Little Shelford, but James Edward Law, his successor (brother or son?) grasps the Register firmly during 1852. This seems to justify the statement of the typescript that William Law resigned at some date. However, he could have bought and held the patronage, which certainly remained in his family until 1879. Hence, perhaps, he could afford to be an absentee.

When I started this work, I hoped in my innocence to obtain information from records of patrons. I knew that St Catharine’s had held the advowson before presenting it in 1960 to the Bishop of Ely. But alas! their archivist, Dr Baker, informs me that they bought it themselves as late as 1879, from the Rector James Edward Law.

The earliest patrons of whom we know are the de Frevilles who appear at intervals in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. In 1393, Walter Knyght (see above) resigned the living, apparently because he had inherited the lands and tenants of the late Robert Freville (wrongly said in the Little Guide to Cambridgeshire to have died in 1395). This seems rather irregular. The de Frevilles’ powers being perhaps in abeyance, we find the King (Richard II) apparently appointing Knyght’s successor, Robert Cook.

This is a highly interesting interlude, with much to tell us on the relations between patrons and rectors. But the de Frevilles are soon back, William Freville presenting John Catte in 1445 and John Freville presenting Thomas Wardell in 1494. There is little that we can find out about the very patrons of these livings once we get outside Crosby’s Index. Nearly all the material is diocesan.

I cannot doubt, however, that the de Frevilles used our south chapel as their private preserve, probably serving both as a chantry and a pew. If so, their brasses should have been there since ca. 1400, though which individuals they represent I cannot be sure. I have never discovered anything about the inscriptions which have been missing for very many years. We are not forced to conclude that the chapel was the “Private Oratory” which Margaret de Freville was licensed by the Bishop to build in 1401/2. But the brass plaque of 1622, just south of the lectern, is suggestive. On it Priscilla Bankes, widow of John Bankes, claims she held the manor sometime belonging to the Frevilles. If it now occupies its original position, it was apparently set up at the entrance to the chapel, viz.  the Family Pew of the Lords of the Manor. The squint, through which the Elevation of the Host could be seen from it, is well preserved, though blocked.

In 1557, a William Freavil is still appointing. He must have made his peace with Mary Tudor. But the Bankes family were Puritans of perhaps just slack in their Anglicanism. In 1605/6 (Gibbons p.84) the family were all fined for failing to arrange or attend a “churching” of Mrs Brigitta Bankes. The brass plaque shows that they weathered the storm.

Between the de Frevilles and Bankes families there is the mysterious figure of Thomas Rowe of Trumpington, who as patron introduced Nicholas Richmond to the Rectory of Shelford Parva in October 1591 (before Archbishop Whitgift at Lambeth). The Queen had appointed the preceding incumbent (see below).

All this evidence may seem incredibly intricate and tedious. But unless one masters it, one has little prospect of stating the truth fully and yet succinctly. Many events, important at the time, drop completely out of the memory. Thus, my typescript list tells me merely that the Rev. E.H. Berwick, installed in 1931, “died            ”, and that Edmund Sibson was installed in 1950. According to St Catharine’s, Mr Berwick died in 1957; and he must have resigned in 1949, for, according to our present Archdeacon’s records, Mr Sibson was installed early in 1950.

So all evidence, even the most recent, is extremely difficult to recover. Yet it surely deserves preservation. It is, after all, part of the record of nine centuries of Christian work, of many persons useful and active in their day. And research, even in this little village, tells us a great deal about so much, even outside the round of church services. There is even some characteristic information on Queen Elizabeth herself. In promoting John Scarfield as Rector of Little Shelford in 1580, the Queen observed, characteristically, that she was “patron for this turn”. Was this mere Royal Prerogative? Or was Little Shelford at that time an “alternative appointment”, like Great St Mary’s to this day?

Hugh Plommer

October 1980